Review: Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

Editor’s Note: Our friend and colleague Frank Michaels Errington passed away on May 31. Frank was a voracious reader and prolific reviewer, and had filed several reviews with us before we lost him. His family has granted us permission to run those reviews, including the one below.

Wanderers by Chuck Wendig
Del Rey (July 2, 2019)
800 pages; $18.89 hardcover; $13.99 e-book
Reviewed by Frank Michaels Errington

Every now and again a book comes along which raises the bar in its genre to new heights. In 1978, Stephen King did just that with the apocalypse. For more than forty years The Stand has been the standard-bearer when it comes to decimating humanity. If I remember correctly, Captain Trips killed off 99% of the global population. Along comes Chuck Wendig, who walks up to Steve and says, “Hold my beer.”

In its original incarnation, The Stand clocked in at 823 pages. Wanderers has a mere 800. Admittedly, Wendig is a bit of a slacker in word count, but he does turn in one hell of a story.

Wanderers begins slowly with a single walker seemingly sleepwalking in Maker’s Bell, Pennsylvania. Her name is Nessie and she just goes missing one day. Sister (Shana) and Father (Charlie) finally locate her and find she’s been joined by others, all in the same state, and all just walking together.

It was then she saw the girl’s eyes. They were open. Her sister’s gaze stood fixed at nothing, like she was looking through Shana or staring around her.

Benji Ray is no longer with the CDC due to being overzealous and falsifying data as a means to an end. Enter Sadie Emeka who attempts to recruit Benji to her company, which has developed an artificial intelligence called Black Swan.

This was what he knew about Black Swan: Black Swan was a PMI, or a predictive machine intelligence. The system was commissioned by the former administration, under President Nolan, who for a Republican was surprisingly science-friendly (he at least acknowledged the realities of climate change, space exploration, GMOs, and so forth)—though also very surveillance-friendly, which in the context of urging the creation of artificial intelligence tended to raise one’s hackles. Problem was, Black Swan didn’t have a budget line, so the money for it came in part out of the CDC, which had been given considerable funding after an Ebola scare in New York City (one that Benji had himself investigated). So Benex-Voyager created Black Swan specifically with the ability to detect upcoming outbreaks, pandemics, and even zoonotic jumps, where a disease leapt from animal to human.

Wanderers is so damn cool, right from the get-go. Instantly fascinating. Wanderers is a big read. Actually, it’s a huge read, but it’s a comfortable one.  If you’re looking for a book to get lost in for a while, this is an epic journey.

Chuck Wendig is a wonderfully talented writer with terrific descriptive skills.

It smelled weird. A little like weed, a bit like beer, and the telltale stink of man-scent, which hovered between too much cologne and farts, easily the two worst candles in the Yankee Candle repository.

Footnote: There is a noticeable political undertone to the story and if you follow Chuck on social media you likely have a good idea which way this leans. As a matter of fact, this whole book is an allegory on our global political climate. Didn’t bother me at all. I wasn’t even halfway in when I realized I was reading the best book of the year, or any year, for that matter.

There are so many wonderful things about Wanderers which I can’t communicate without entering into the spoiler zone.  Let’s just say it’s rich with everything that makes for a great read.

More than a few times, Wendig’s narrative caused me to exclaim, “Oh, crap!”  Not in those exact words, but this review will eventually make its way to Amazon and they are the language police.

One more note. As long as this book was, I didn’t want it to end.

I cannot recommend this one highly enough.

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